BMW Shifts Away i Program’s Electric Vehicles Focus, Toward Fully Autonomous Cars

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Originally published on EV Obsession.

We’ve covered a number of news stories about BMW in recent days that really make one wonder what exactly the leadership at the company is thinking.

The decision to not release any new all-electric vehicles until 2021? The departure of multiple senior “i Division” engineers? A refocusing away from electric vehicle technology and onto autonomous driving technologies?

BMW i3 protonic blue 9

Certainly notable changes… One does wonder if company execs feel that the they’ve been burned on the BMW i3 — with sales not living up to hopes.

Gas 2 provides more on the most recent announcement:

The i division at BMW was supposed to lead the way to the electric car future. Its first two cars, the i3 and i8, were highly innovative and were a showcase for the company’s legendary engineering talent.

…i3 owners are passionate about their cars, but sales have been disappointing. The company sold only 25,000 of them last year. The i8 plug-in hybrid sports car is selling well, but at $150,000, it is never going to be a volume leader.

BMW has frittered and diddled about whether there would be a third model in the i division lineup. Some said it would be a version of the 5 Series sedan. Others said it would be a crossover vehicle. Whatever it is, the Bavarian company has now put off thinking about putting it into production before 2021.

Instead, it will focus on making Level 4 autonomous driving cars, according to BMW board member Klaus Froehlich, who is in charge of development for the company. “It is now in ramp-up stage. We call it Project i Next,” he told the press at company headquarters in Munich recently.

…Froehlich tells the press that with self driving cars, BMW could launch a ride hailing service to compete with Uber and Lyft without having to pay human drivers.

The Gas 2 coverage certainly paints the picture of a failed strategy, and an attempt to shift focus. But does that decision to shift focus really make sense? Do BMW execs really expect that they can maintain the company’s current international market share while ignoring fully electric vehicles until 2021? Or has it just decided to give up on competing with Tesla this decade, while the Model 3 takes away a huge chunk of its bread-and-butter sales?

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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